So many hugs, so many smiles, so many deep breathes, so many stories and experiences from people that know what it is like for their home to be hit with a rocket, know what it is like to be injured by shrapnel, know what it is like to see loved ones live with PTSD, know what it is like to run and not be able to run fast enough.
Under fire and incessant sirens, we evacuated 300 victims of terror from the Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheva, and Nitzan on Sunday for three days of therapeutic support. Victims from Sderot went to Tiberius, and victims for other areas of the South went to Eilat.
It was terrifying to leave the safety of their homes to leave town, but they did it for the blessing of a few days of reprieve – miraculously, the pickup felt like a dance through raindrops, rockets landed in each community mere minutes after the buses departed.
Three days are too short to repair years of damage; however, three days allow a family to regroup, regain composure, and sleep safely for a few hours.
Upon arrival in Eilat, families either went to rest or went to the swimming pool to relax. I walked outside with Orna, a smile stretched across her face and tears welled up in her eyes; she had been living in her bomb shelter and hadn’t enjoyed sunshine in two weeks.
Spending a few days in Eilat or Tiberius is surreal for these families. Even as they enjoy the sunshine – a change in sound stops them cold in their tracks, an airplane flying overhead makes them shrink in fear, and the glint of the sun on the windows sends shivers down their spines. The terror instilled in them by the attacks they survived and the ongoing sirens and rocket fire has immobilized the normalcy of their lives.
Some were able to sleep the first night, others weren’t – either they were dreaming of sirens and waking up from their dreams; or were glued to their phones, in touch with their family and friends still in the South.
On the second night of the retreat, after a day of therapeutic support – everyone went to sleep feeling calmer and more composed, hoping for a good night of rest. The quiet night air in Eilat was abruptly filled the loud, long wail of the Tzeva Adom Siren. Terror ensued in the hallways as 150 victims of terror raced for safety. A mere three blocks away, the rocket landed outside another hotel, injuring 30 people (7 lightly wounded).
We sat together with Yonatan Amit, our in-staff psychologist. Everyone took the time to share with each other and gain new tools to heal.
Gila, sat with her pregnant belly protruding, she sat and spoke to us about a different time and a different pregnancy. Her son Assaf was only 8 months old, she was 6 months pregnant with a boy; it was Friday night and they had just sat down to eat dinner in their home in Kibbutz Karmi. They heard the siren, standing in their caravan, they had nowhere to run and hide.
The rocket came crashing through their roof – destroying their home. Baby-Assaf was critically injured, it was dark, it was night, he was rushed to the hospital – Gila’s father was the ambulance driver, his grandson was unrecognizable, he did not know until afterwards that the baby was Assaf. Assaf sustained critical brain injuries and made incredible strides in his recovery. Today, Assaf is a beautiful 9-year-old boy who will suffer from a severe epilepsy disorder his entire life.
Yael spoke softly, her husband Zev was resting in the quiet of their hotel room. He had sustained a critical brain injury when a rocket landed right next to him in 2004 and has never been the same, he is a completely different person – he had to relearn everything from the beginning and is in daily therapy, has memory problems, cannot handle loud noises, and is unable to work.
He needs quiet to heal, and with sirens ringing every ten minutes, and rockets landing throughout their neighborhood, healing is not possible. They do not have a bomb shelter; they have to hide in a commercial cement pipe that sits beside their home.
Yael and Zev lived in Gush Katif until 2005. Yael feels at a loss – and so do other victims that had lived in Gush Katif. They had left their homes and uprooted their entire lives because they had thought that leaving would stop the rocket attacks on the South. And now – the attacks are much worse and they are happening across the entire country.
Talia, only 17 year old lives in Ashkelon . In 2006, her family was moving apartments and had gone out to pick up some boxes when they heard the wail of the siren – they ran for cover as a rocket landed next to them. She, her brother, her grandmother, and her uncle were all injured when rocket tore through the pavement and sprayed shrapnel up their legs.
“You hear the siren and are afraid that you will be injured or killed – but you don’t actually know what that means until it happens to you.” Four years later, in 2010, they were targeted again when a rocket landed outside their home. No one was physically injured in that attack – but the fear of will remain a part of them forever.
In the weeks leading up to Operation Protective Edge, Southern Israel became a constant target for incoming rocket attacks. Residents of the South were constantly on heightened alert to run to shelter at any given moment. As warning sirens rang, previously injured families dealt with constant triggers from the attacks that they survived.
The Therapeutic Retreat combines time for families to regroup and relax, receive therapeutic support in the form of support groups, hydrotherapy, yoga, pilates, and special programming for children.
Each family has relatives and friends that are still in the region under the current barrage of rockets. Families are in touch, checking in with their loved ones, making sure everyone is okay. But for now, these phone calls are happening from a place of healing.